The easiest, most natural way to teach geography to students in within the context of other subjects.
Geography as its own subject is hard to learn. It’s just names and facts without context to give them meaning, context to make them something to remember.
So, when you are reading about the Barbary pirates, that is the time to find Tunisia and Algeria. When you are decorating for Thanksgiving, locate Massachusetts and Plymouth Rock. You could even find Southampton, England and trace the route across the Atlantic. Science, particularly natural science, directly lends itself to geography studies. For example, if you are learning about bats you will learn that bats inhabit every continent except Antarctica. Whether it’s flying foxes in India, fruit bats in Central America, or the horseshoe bats in Mozambique and Malawi, having a globe near at hand is very helpful.
But why a globe, and not just a map?
Maps are less expensive, and make lovely wall decorations. Contrarily, maps can be folded up small and take up almost no space; an appealing option if you are homeschooling on the road or in a very small home.
A globe provides something that a map simply cannot, a much more accurate representation of the world.
Did you know that Greenland is roughly 1/4th the size of Australia? Most people don’t, because they are accustom to seeing maps where Greenland is about the same size or even larger than Australia. I’ve even seen maps that show Greenland larger than South America! This is due to the limitations of representing a spherical world on a flat surface. While you can teach about the problems with maps, it is a complex topic that is hard to understand.
However, nothing can replace the visual impression a globe provides. The Pacific Ocean is big; everyone knows that. But it’s so big that many maps cut most of it out. On a globe a child can see at a glance that the Pacific is so big that it’s about a third of the entire Earth (30.5%, to be exact). A globe shows Greenland in it’s true size. A globe also shows something of particular interest in our modern world of air travel. If you are flying from New York to Hong Kong, you can shave almost a thousand miles off of the trip by flying over the Arctic circle. A tape measure, or even a string, and a globe shows this easily. I use only a globe with my students during the elementary years, to ensure they develop an accurate mental image of the world. All young learners NEED a globe.
I initially purchased a $20 to $25 globe when my oldest was in preschool or kindergarten. Back then, the Back-to-School Sales in the summer often had globes on display at a great price. However, I haven’t seen a globe on sale for over a decade now, so when my first globe fell apart from much use, I had to go searching online to replace it. I purchased this Explorer World Desk Globe from Amazon in 2013, and it is still in excellent condition.
Here are some ideas on how to use a globe in your homeschool:
> Find your home town on the globe. If your city or town is too small to actually be labeled, pull out a fine tip Sharpie and put it on your globe. This is the most important place in the world for your child, and it is from this location that she will learn the rest of the world.
> Once she knows where her home is, help her find places she has heard about. Does grandma live in another state? Find it. Did a missionary from another country speak at your church last week? Find the country. Every time a location is mentioned, even in passing, find it on the globe. In the beginning, you will focus mainly on continents, countries, oceans, and seas. A child needs a concept of “Russia” before they can fully take in “Moscow” or “Saint Petersburg”.
> Encourage your child to just look at the globe and the places on it. Help her read the names. Teach her what the symbols on the globe mean. Typically, globes will use all capitals and bold for the name of a country, a star for a country’s capital city, and dots for other cities. Many globes have some texture to them as well, so children can feel the mountain ranges. Let her feel how high the Himalayas are in comparison to whatever mountain range she is familiar with. (The mountains we can see from our yard are so low they don’t even show up on our globe, so more than anything we could read about feeling the difference on our globe showed my children just how high the Rockies and the Himalayas are.)
> Play games with the globe. Ask a question, such as “What ocean touches Brazil?” Allow your child to use the globe to find the answer. Then, have her use the globe to come up with a question for you. If you are as ignorant of global geography as most Americans seem to be, you’ll find your child stumping you from a young age. It is fine to need to use the globe yourself in order to answer your children’s questions. My oldest particularly loved this game, and very quickly started asking difficult questions, such as, “Name a River in Korea.” Without the globe, I couldn’t.
> Don’t worry about your child memorizing the places you find on the globe. The purpose is an introduction. This is learning geography in much the same way your child learned to speak. Exposure. It sounds sort of sketchy, but it works, and works remarkably well. My youngest was only three when she could find “Papa Guinny” (as she called Papua New Guinea) on our globe. My oldest was just 7 or 8 when my sister called and told me that her husband was going on a temporary duty assignment to Suriname. I asked, “Suriname? Where’s Suriname?” Before my sister could answer me, my little 2nd grader piped up, “It’s on the Northeast coast of South America, Mom.